When you catch a common cold, it turns out that the virus slowing you down could be different from the one causing your daughter's sniffles, your co-worker's cough, or your neighbor's congestion. That's because what we call the common cold is actually a catch-all term describing more than 200 viruses that can lead to similar symptoms. And as many different strains of cold and flu as there are, there may be just as many popular treatments, from extra-strength medicines to herbal supplements to chicken soup—some of which work much more effectively than others.

In 2016, Americans shelled out an estimated $5.8 billion to treat their cold and flu symptoms—a hefty price tag for such seemingly simple ailments. This month, we're helping you get the relief you need with advice on steps to take when symptoms arise, a buying guide to help you navigate the drugstore, and evidence on which home remedies really work. We'll break down the best active ingredients to tackle every symptom, so you no longer have to wonder whether it's dextromethorphan or phenylephrine—or is it fexofenadine?—that's right for you. Our secret shoppers have been navigating cold and flu aisles across the country to bring you the latest on how to get the best bang for your buck. CR is bringing all that and more to you this month, because while the cold may be common, knowledge you can trust isn't common enough.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the January 2018 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.